Don't Tell Me How To Travel

Don’t Tell Me How To Travel

For years, I have been told that my way of travelling is wrong. It’s a habit that I was once ashamed of, but now, unabashedly own.nf

I am an “informed traveller” who, like many others, secretly enjoys the daggy pastime of planning my holidays. We are the people who research and double check our travel itineraries – the slightly obsessive travellers who are perceived as a little boring and tedious. It may not be edgy and cool, but you know what? We get shit done.

I’ve been lectured more times than I can count by supposedly well-travelled people who, with all the knowledge that their 20-something years can offer, tell me the value of spontaneity and preach about the evils of planning and knowledge with no balance to be found.

“No one can have fun making lists,” they admonish.

I often wonder why I and so many others get such a bad reputation for being informed. In this age of anxiety, why torture yourself by not having even the slightest plan or fooling yourself into thinking that by winging it you’re going to find yourself?

Maybe some people can improvise their way through their travels, but that’s just not my style. This doesn’t make my adventures any less valuable. To be one of those carefree people who can turn up somewhere and hope for the best would be great, but not all of us are that lucky. For me, it’s a definite way to waste my holiday and end up a nervous wreck.

I once bowed to the pressure of being more spontaneous on a trip to Japan. I couldn’t let go altogether, so I made a loose itinerary and vowed only to bring it out if everything went to shit. My fellow travellers had only come up with a few things they wanted to do: watch a sumo match, visit a brewery and eat at high-end restaurants.

As it turned out, everywhere was fully booked for months, and it wasn’t sumo season. With a completely empty itinerary, they planned to wander the streets of Tokyo. As the first week progressed, they realised that perhaps they needed to put a more solid plan in place. This is where me and my list of adventures came in. At first they’d thought I was crazy, but my planning meant they saw a lot of Japan, so they indulged me. One point for neuroticism and zero for their ‘spontaneous adventure’.

Not having a clue has even become a trend to impress people. This spontaneous approach to travelling has been so romanticised that it’s become like a photo of an average coffee with a pretty filter. After your photo, you’re stuck with a shit coffee, just like you’re also stuck with your choice to prioritise appearances over substance. Ultimately, forgoing research on your destination so you look cool only hurts yourself.

Sometimes friends tell me my overplanning sounds boring, but you know what I think is boring? Sitting at a bus stop for three hours because you couldn’t be bothered to read a timetable. All those free spirits girls are careful to keep that stuff out of their travel blogs.

As a mildly obsessive person, I often find myself in obscure parts of the internet doing research on customs and unacceptable behaviour before a trip. While it may seem like a useless rabbit hole at the time, that information comes in handy to keep you out of trouble. If you don’t feel like being side-eyed by 20 Japanese businessmen on the train or openly scoffed at by a French waiter, have a look and see what flies in the country you’re travelling to.

I once found myself comparing tattoos with an Aussie who told me she was awkwardly removed from an expensive hotel’s onsen, all because she’d made the mistake of climbing in with a back full of tattoos. Tattoos are associated with Japanese gang culture, and she’d upset a group of local women. I felt bad for her, but at the same time, all you need to find that information is the internet.

I’m not saying my way of travel is the best, and my obsession with planning should probably raise a lot of red flags. I’m sure there are also experiences that I’ve missed out on because I haven’t let myself stumble into them. However, being informed about where I’m going has given me some amazing experiences that should never be called boring.

Do you, like me, find this spontaneous philosophy gets you into trouble and consistently leads you to a non-adventure that wastes precious time and money? Then next time you’re travelling, jot down a quick list and see how far it can take you. Don’t be deterred by the informed traveller stereotypes; your experiences will be just as valid. Being an informed on the road is all about making your own holiday, seeking out your own experiences and not waiting for them to come to you.

Cover by Elliot Cooper